Andre Holland On The Success of “Moonlight”, Theater Having More Opportunities for Black People
Actor Andre Holland is having his moment! In two years, the 37-year-old Alabama native, has amassed some impressive credits working with Hollywood heavyweights like Ava DeVurnay in “Selma”, Steven Souderbergh on the hit series The Knick and most recently Ryan Murphy on American Horror Story: Roanoke. Recently, opened up about his role in Oscar favorite “Moonlight,” bringing August Wilson’s famed play Jitney to the theater, and what he would like to see more (and less) of in Hollywood. Peep the excerpts below.
On the response to Moonlight:
It feels great to me, man. This is a story that, obviously, needed to be told and that people have a thirst for. I feel really proud to have been a part of helping to get this story out there. The timing of it all — this movie coming out in this election year — is a great counterpoint to a lot of the ignorance and meanness that we see in the world. At the heart of the story, it’s really about love — a love between people — but also about what that costs, and what that does when one is able to find an empathetic place. Kevin [Holland’s character in Moonlight] grows up to discover that empathy. He’s eventually willing to act on it and to reach out to Trevante’s character, and that’s where the healing begins. Now, perhaps more than ever, we need more and more examples of healing. We need to learn what it takes to heal.
On if the roles he’s being offered have changed:
It’s really hard to say because, unfortunately, I’m only privy to the things that happen to come my way. You hear about other people reading certain scripts or whatnot, but in terms of the stuff that I see and I read, to be honest, I have not yet felt a palpable difference. I do hear a lot of people talking about it, and it does seem to be a conversation that more people are willing to have now, so I’m hopeful that more projects will be made that offer more three-dimensional characters. I want to work with stories that speak accurately to our experience. I hope that the success of Moonlight, of Hidden Figures, of Fences — all these films this year that show these alternate takes — will encourage people to make other films like them. I personally feel a responsibility to not just wait on those things to happen, but to be more active and to create these things. I’ve been writing, I’ve hired writers to work on some material, and I’ve auctioned some books. Basically, I’m also trying to do my part in ushering in this new wave.
On how he got involved with Jitney:
The director Ruben Santiago-Hudson and I did a play two summers ago at Williamstown called Paradise Blue. We had a really great time working together, and he had mentioned that he was trying to get Jitney done on Broadway. About a year later, he called and said, “Finally got it together,” and asked me if I’d like to do it. At the time, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to because of scheduling issues. But he and the Manhattan Theatre Club were patient, and my agents were diligent about working it out, so it all kind of fell into place.
On August Wilson’s characters and Jitney:
Yeah, it does feel like a modern character to me. I mean, he’s a guy who feels like he lives in a country that doesn’t fully represent him, and isn’t allowing him to fully participate. Even though he’s gone and served his country in Vietnam, he comes back and simply wants to buy a house and make a life for himself — that’s threatened [by] outside forces each and every time. That very much makes him a modern character. Politically, nowadays, as we know and feel, we are similarly underrepresented and not heard. It definitely feels like this play could have been written tomorrow.
On the relevance of Jitney today:
Look at [the political narrative] about the rust belt, and the former factory workers whose jobs have been taken away. But then when you look at these people in Pittsburgh [where Jitney is set], for example, the steel industry really supported — buoyed — that community for a very long time. There are a number of black people who have been affected by the loss of these factory jobs, and we don’t hear very much about that. I’m from Birmingham, [which] was also a huge steel town. I’ve seen U.S. Steel and U.S. Pipe, and Pullman, and these different steel factories go under, and affect people in my community and in my family.
But, for some reason, the conversation about it has been about white voters, about white working-class people who feel like they’ve been underrepresented. I personally feel like black people in this country have contributed so much for so long, and haven’t always gotten credit for it. So I agree with you: This political season I was taken aback to hear so much being said about those rust-belt workers, while the black workers who also were depending and relying on those same jobs were, in my opinion, largely ignored. But again, that’s why it’s so great to see this play right now. It reminds people that there is a whole other swath of people who are going through similar things. This is not just a white American problem, it’s something that affects us all. This is an American problem.
If the theater offers more of an opportunity for black people to tell their stories:
In some ways it does. There are a number of different platforms in theater. Broadway is its own … [laughs] incredibly complicated thing, but there are a number of off-Broadway theaters that produce the work of new writers. There seems to be more of an opportunity to get work done [there] than there is in film and TV, especially when it comes to reading and workshopping the work of young talent. It takes so long to get a film or television show together, but in theater, you can say, “Hey, I’ve got this idea, let me get five or six friends together. We’re going to put on a reading, invite a hundred people, get some Trader Joe’s wine,” and before you know it, you’ve got a little thing going. And at least that way, you get to hear your work out loud.
That’s one of the reasons that I’ve chosen to continue living in New York, rather than moving out west, because that community is one that really means a lot to me, and is a relationship that I’ve fostered for a really long time. It helps me to stay sharp and stay in contact with some of the writers who are coming up. For example, I did a play two summers ago called Paradise Blue. It was written by a woman named Dominique Morisseau, who is a fantastic, fantastic writer, and she’s now writing on the show Shameless. I knew her as a playwright, but now she’s getting more TV space, and as a result I think we’re going to hear even more from her going forward. There’s more real estate available for new writers and new talent than there is in film and TV.
On working with Steven Soderbergh on the TV series The Knick:
I just want to play interesting characters, and I want to work with the best directors I can work with. I always imagined that that would be in film, but the way that things are now, people are working everywhere. So if that ended up being a TV series, then I’m open to that, as long as it’s a cinematic experience, not one that’s sort of a framed-by-numbers type of show, or a procedural — I’m not really attracted to that kind of stuff. The Knick changed everything for me. Working with Soderbergh was the first time I realized what it’s like to really live with a character, and to do that in the hands of a real filmmaker. It checked all the boxes for me.
On what he wants to see more and less of in Hollywood:
Good question. Good question, and it’s one that I don’t actually know how to answer. Actually, here’s what I want to see: I want to see directors like Barry Jenkins, Ava DuVernay, and Andrew Dosunmu. What’s wonderful about Moonlight is that it really does amplify Barry in a wonderful and very well-deserved way. But at the same time, I hope that we can find a way for that to also shed some light on some other filmmakers who can really use a little bit of a lift right now: people who have stories to tell and just need an opportunity to tell them. I want to see more young filmmakers, and specifically filmmakers who have a unique voice. I wouldn’t mind seeing less of the attempt to force-feed people what others think they want, if that makes sense — whatever the formula is that some people seem to operate under, like needing a certain star, or needing a certain thing in order to get a piece made. Moonlight is just a story that these two young guys from Miami wanted to tell, and they did it without any huge, huge stars — obviously Mahershala and Naomie are stars in their own right — but it wasn’t about that: It was about telling the story in an ensemble way. I want to see more story and character pieces from a unique perspective.
Why Moonlight is important:
I don’t know that any other filmmaker ever could’ve made Moonlight, because it is so unique to the creators’ experiences: It is so personal. I guess that’s what I’m getting at: things that are singular, stories that are singular, that derive from a strong, strong, strong point of view. Those are the kinds of things that I like to be a part of, and would like to see more of. Because I think it’s only really through that specificity that you can get at anything that’s even remotely universal.